Cover date: August 2003
Writer: Matt Wagner
Penciller: Matt Wagner
Inker: Matt Wagner
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (IronMunro@aol.com)
While onlookers gape in awe and wonder Superman can only think of how the one thing that drives him is the idea that disaster can be averted. That and how heavy the train was.
After making sure the passengers are okay Superman tracks the trajectory of the bullet that killed the driver and finds nothing. In the distance, shadowy figures inside a supposed news van track his movements.
That night black garbed figures attempt to break into the Metropolis branch of S.T.A.R. Labs. They are the same men from the news van and while one of them breaks into a ventilation shaft others watch their instruments for signs of Superman. Suddenly, a shadow moves and takes them by surprise. Later, a KMET News broadcast tells the story of how an anonymous tip led them to the would-be thieves. A spokesman thanked the man who he believed foiled the robbery, but wondered why Superman left the thieves hog tied.
Superman, meanwhile, is in his own private retreat in the Arctic. On the basis of Pa Kent's advice Clark built a place where he could be alone. In his Fortress he walks around in the robes that were sent with him in the craft that brought him to Earth, honoring the day he had chosen as his father's birthday. After passing the statues of his biological parents Clark wonders if he will ever know why they sent him to Earth or what caused his planet's demise. After changing back into his uniform, he seals the entrances with ice and heads back to Metropolis.
On the other side of the world on the frozen continent of Antarctica men dressed in the same manor as the would-be S.T.A.R. Labs thieves track down a creature created the world's most influential man. The creature's genetic structure mimicked Superman's ability to absorb massive amounts of solar energy, but at the cost of the cells beginning to calcify when they had absorbed too much energy. Lex Luthor hid the creatures someplace cold and soon the men find the creature and begin to dig it out.
Back in Metropolis Clark Kent sits n his office trying to figure out who caught the S.T.A.R. Labs thieves when he receives a call from an old friend, who Clark immediately realizes was the man behind the collar. Soon he is in a limousine with Bruce Wayne, who has something important to discuss with Clark. Bruce explains that he has been on the trail of an exclusive cartel that can obtain any type of weapon from guns to weapons-grade plutonium. Called The Purge Bruce had just busted one of the main cells and discovered plans for the S.T.A.R. break-in, where they were trying to acquire Kryptonite. He hands Clark a disk, which Bruce believes to be stolen. Clark immediately realizes that it is a Lexcorp security disk and that The Purge is going to steal from Luthor. The two agree on the fact that since Luthor has his hands in all kinds of pies that the group's interest in Lexcorp could lead to some very ugly things.
Bruce asks Clark to do the decryption on the disk since he didn't have time. Clark agrees and the limo pulls over. Clark thanks Bruce for the assistance, but mentions that he could have handled it, even the Kryptonite. The two shake hands and the limo pulls away, leaving Clark to his own thoughts on the differences between the two men.
Elsewhere, in a darkened room, a young woman with pink hair pulled up in pig tails grows impatient at the mystery surrounding her "audition." A man from the shadows tells her that his sources in Amsterdam inform him that she is one of the most skilled warriors they have ever seen despite her young age. The girl grows bored and asks if he wants a demonstration or what. The man agrees and a group of men surround the girl. Moments later they lay at her feet. The man offers her a position with The Purge and asks her name. With some hesitation she tells him her name is Diana.
In Metropolis Clark breaks the code on the disk and discovers that The Purge were after something called "Project Replica", which was an experiment that didn't go as Lex had expected. Lois opens the door and after a bit of self-indulgence, realizes that Clark is working on something related to Lex Luthor. Claiming Lex to be her beat, she tries to find out what Clark has, but Clark dismisses her allegations and as he gets her out of his office wonders why The Purge would want what they were looking for.
Meanwhile, Bizarro sits in a darkened room, covered in heavy, thick chains. The creature grows restless as moonlight and the occasional infrared bath restore his strength. The door opens and the shadowy man from Diana's "audition" enters. He speaks to Bizarro and calls him friend. As he unlocks the chains he goes on to say how he realizes that Bizarro has never had a friend because no matter his intentions people always run in fear from him. The man introduces himself as Ra's Al Ghul who promises no one will ever harm him again. In fact, Ghul explains, Bizarro will prove to be invaluable to him. As he slides a medallion around the creature's neck that reads "Bizarro #1" Ghul claims that Bizarro will indeed be that, his number one and asks the creature for a favor or two.
After checking the area where Bizarro had been hidden away by Luthor, Superman flies to the Cave to confer with Batman. Batman informs Superman that the man behind The Purge is Ra's Al Ghul, an eco-terrorist bent on saving the Earth and its resources from the ravages of mankind. Superman listens to Batman's description and comments on how the Dark Knight seems to know the man pretty well. Batman explains that he used to have connections inside Ghul's network, but they have disappeared. He continues by saying that whatever Ra's is planning it's bound to be big.
Meanwhile Bizarro flies across the ocean carrying a Russian nuclear sub. Ra's Al Ghul had asked for only two missiles, but Bizarro decided to bring the whole sub. As he speeds along, his strength returned thanks to the exposure to the sun, a solider opens fire on the creature. Bizarro shakes the sub, sending soldiers flying around. When the sub first came under attack the men inside had armed one of the missiles to use against Bizarro. The missile is launched and flies out of control until it detonates over a mountain near the remote island of Themyscira.
Back at Ra's Al Ghul's campsite the eco-terrorist and Diana discuss his mission and goals. Diana comments on how different Ghul's attitudes are when compared to those of her people, who leave the problems of man to men. When Ra's broaches the subject of where she is from Diana replies cryptically and goes on to explain how her life had been since she left. Ra's tells her she is selling herself short and that it takes tremendous courage to confront the unknown. One of the guards enters the tent to tell Ra's that Bizarro is back and that he has brought the entire sub.
In Metropolis, Princess Diana rides in a cab and gets out at a park. As she strolls through the park she thinks of how she doesn't relish the confrontation that is to come. She walks among the birds, which flock around her, thinking of how that despite her misgivings she has wanted to meet the man that is stronger than Hercules and swifter than Hermes.
That night Superman flies above the city, lost in thought about how his search for Bizarro has proven fruitless. As he flies near the Daily Planet building Superman is broken when Diana, emissary and ambassador of the Amazonian people calls to him. She apologizes for the abruptness of her method of contacting him and points out that he is a hard man to get into contact with.
She explains that her mission is to investigate why Superman let the missile go while escorting the submarine. Diana is quick to point out that the Amazons do not think his actions were deliberate, but Themyscira lies dangerously close to where the missile detonated so she has been sent to talk to him. Superman says that he can explain and after briefing her on Bizarro and soon Diana feels embarrassed about the entire situation. Superman tells her that it is understandable, but Diana explains that to her people a false accusation is almost as bad as the crime itself.
Superman suggests that they take their conversation elsewhere since the rooftop of the Daily Planet is rather visible. Diana invites him aboard her jet, which is invisible to normal vision. She suggests that since the man responsible for the abduction of the sub has the remaining missiles that they should use the jet's instruments to track the residual ion trail of the sub's reactor. Before leaving, Superman asks how she was able to locate him. Diana replies that she asked around and that while humans are easy to fool the birds of the city know when and where something flies through their airspace.
The two track the sub to the Sahara Desert, but find that the missiles are missing. They do find traces of what appeared to be a camp and swirls in the desert sand that suggest the presence of helicopters. Superman takes to the air and uses his x-ray vision to scan below ground. Though he has trouble with certain elements that block his vision he still searches for things manmade. Finding such evidence he burrows into the earth with Diana close behind. After commending him on a job well done in finding the underground facility she asks Superman if this was their lair. Superman replies it would seem so, but he can't be sure since his x-ray vision cannot see through the lead alloys in the walls. As they investigate Superman scans the area with his hearing searching for heartbeats.
Suddenly the two heroes come under attack. Superman begins to warn Diana, but she is ahead of him, deflecting the bullets with her bracelets. The fight is nearly over when the men's commander order Unit A to fall back and Unit B to advance. The men from Unit B simply grab hold of Superman and Diana, leading Diana to wonder what their motives are. Diana is first to notice the grenades on the men's uniforms and realizes that they are suicide bombers. Realizing that there are too many to disarm Superman throws off the men clinging to him and protects Diana from the explosion.
The explosion rocks the complex. After the dust settles Diana suggests that the supports can't take much more of this. Superman scans ahead to see what else might be thrown at them. The smell of gas hits him as they come upon more men armed with nerve gas. Superman inhales the gas and spits it out, rendering it harmless. Diana tells him that it's too late for them suicide bombers but the team leader has locked himself in the vault.
Inside the vault the team leader activates the bomb and as Superman and Diana burst into the room he falls on his sword. Despite the senseless loss of life the two realize that they have bigger problems. As Diana pulls the wiring Superman realizes that they are too late. He orders Diana to leave and when she tells him she can't he screams at her that there is no time. Spinning at an incredible speed he burrows the missile deeper underground. Diana runs through the complex to the surface, but is distracted by the binding on crates labeled for Gotham City. She recognizes it as an Amazonian Bridle Knot. The thought of one of her own people being involved in the madness she and Superman are investigating haunts her as she reaches the surface.
The bomb detonates and the ground buckles under. After the dust settles Diana examines the cracked earth, searching for signs of Superman. His hand breaks through the surface and Diana rushes to his aid. Both are surprised that he survived, but Superman's concern is that they lost the trail of evidence. Diana begins to tell him about the Bridle Knot, but settles on saying that she saw a shipping label for Gotham City. Superman says that it isn't much, but it is all they have. Plus he has a friend in Gotham who might be able to help them.
Story - 5: Before I get into the meat of this issue I wanted to write about some thoughts I had regarding the overall nature of this story and how it fits into the history of the DC Universe.
I am a fan of continuity. There is really no way of getting around it. I like the concept of a definitive history of the characters I read about. Incident A happened, followed by Incident B and so on. It appeals to my particular nature. I like to think that there is one main timeline and that stories that don't fit into that timeline are the province of Elseworlds and Hypertime.
Going with that theory and sticking to it I was kind of confused as to where this story fits into the overall history of the characters involved. My knowledge of the current Superman's history is pretty extensive and while what I know about Batman is sparse I wouldn't go so far as to say I know nothing. Wonder Woman is a different story. What I know of her current history is from the first twenty odd issues of the Perez run that I was able to get my hands on several years ago. (A really solid run, by the way, and one I highly recommend.)
So as far as I knew Wonder Woman made her big debut during the Legends incident, but had been in Man's World for some time before that dealing with the threat of Aries. Superman and Wonder Woman's first meeting took place during Legends and from what I gathered there second meeting took place in Action Comics #600.
Then there is the matter of Ra's Al Ghul and the Batman. If I am getting this right the two first met when Ra's kidnapped Robin (Dick Grayson) to test the skills of Batman in an effort to prove that he was worthy to be the eco-terrorist's heir. At that time Batman had the costume with the more familiar bat in yellow oval symbol. This story seems to take place at an early part of the three heroes' careers, so that doesn't jibe either.
As I sat there and tried to make sense of the whole thing I stumbled upon an amazing discovery about how the pieces fit into the overall puzzle.
It doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter that the pieces may not fit because Matt Wagner has crafted such a solid story that you can forget about the little details and focus on the bigger picture of how great this comic is. Sometimes you have to let things go and just let the story tell itself without getting huffy that it isn't bible law. There seems to be a bit of a controversy these days about what is more important; the story or the history and while I have my own prejudices on the subject I also am a fan of the form enough to respect when a story comes along that transcends fanboy concerns. Besides, DC has a history of these types of "how they all met" type of stories. The Silver Age was rife with them and between Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and the dead Legends of the DC Universe, stories of the early days of the modern age of heroes have become pretty standard.
So what makes this story so good that I can put away my childish, fanboy pretensions? The answer is simple.
From Superman to Diana to Bizarro to Ra's Al Ghul to the other Diana every one has a solidly defined character with the possible exception of Batman, but he appears on two maybe three pages and even then you get little hints to how Wagner wants to make him tick. Okay, Lois Lane is treated kind of one dimensionally, but this story isn't about her, it's about the three heroes in the title and the people they are to do battle with.
The character Wagner focused mainly on in this issue was Superman. I haven't read anything about this series, but I have a feeling that each issue will focus on a different hero while telling the overall story. I don't know this for a fact, but I have this hunch that it will play out that way. In any case, Superman was the main character this time out and from what I have seen I really like Wagner's take on the Man of Steel.
In the first few pages Wagner shows that he has a really good grasp on Superman. The train sequence is pure Superman and a really nice look at how he felt in the early days of his career. From him missing the train to "keep up the image" and being mocked slightly by the guy hawking papers to him saving the people on the train (except for the driver of course) this is quintessential Man of Steel and did a good job of setting the tone for the character in the scheme of the series.
More than that, Wagner managed to make Superman slightly more human than other writers might have. Outwardly he was calm, the hero of the people. Inside, though, he wasn't quite so sure how he was going to accomplish his goal. His first attempt failed, but the determination that disaster can be averted drives him and he finds a way, but immediately afterwards he comments on how heavy the train was. This cemented in my mind, as the reader, who Superman was in terms of the story.
Diana (the Wonder Woman Diana that is) was another treat, though a bit odd in places. The inner dialogue of her problem with Superman's overprotective nature fit well with the character but didn't go over the top. The odd part was the quasi-school girl crush she developed on Superman. It was all internal, but I never saw the character in that light. It's not bad, just different. The fact that it was reciprocated made it more believable.
Diana's decision not to tell Superman about the Amazonian not didn't make much sense to me, but after some thought I realized that Diana felt bad enough about accusing Superman of dropping the bomb that to admit that an Amazon may have been involved would have made things worse. I mean Superman wouldn't have given the matter a second thought, but Diana didn't know that yet. Also my theory is that Diana wanted to have all of the facts and be absolutely sure before admitting that one of her own people could have been involved.
As for Batman, the scene in the limo was very well done. They weren't chummy, just all business as if there was as much respect as feeling uncomfortable with the other person's methods. There wasn't much of Batman, but between the limo and the scene in the cave we got a hint of what is to come. His hesitance when speaking of Talia was a nice touch.
As for the villains, "Diana" was most interesting. While her motivations seemed a bit forced Wagner managed to bring some life into her. The anger and resentment was there and very believable.
Ra's Al Ghul was ... well Ra's was very dramatic. I'm used to the reserved, standing in the corner with his cloak draped across his body until launching into action or going out of his skull after taking a leisurely dip in the old Lazarus Pit. Ra's had a real theatrical flair, which worked in the grand scheme of things, but was a little odd. His manipulation of Bizarro was very evil, but then again despite the fact that he has some very good intention, Ra's is a bad guy. Batman's explanation of this worked for me. Denny O'Neil, the writer pretty much responsible for Ghul, has stated on numerous occasions that Ra's intentions were correct, but his means were not. Batman's (or at least Wagner's Batman) doesn't buy this and I much preferred Wagner's version.
Bizarro was my favorite, though. Wagner made him a very tragic figure; someone to feel sorry for. Ra's pretending (or maybe he wasn't, Ra's is a weird guy) to be Bizarro's friend was almost sad, especially the happiness the character felt when taking the sub. Ghul's proclamation that Bizarro was his number one friend was a good way of establishing the name.
Overall this was one fine comic. I was a little worried about how the story was going to play out, but Matt Wagner has proved me wrong.
Oh, one more thing. This story could have taken place shortly after the Legends incident and before Action Comics #600. That was still sort of early enough in each hero's career to have an impact. Superman's experience with Wonder Woman here could have intensified the feelings he had for Diana as shown in Superman (vol. 2) #5. The relationship he had with Lois certainly fit the time period. It also explains how Batman and Superman know each other identities, which took place shortly before Action #600, with a little tweaking. In addition it would explain how Batman and Ra's are established as enemies.
There, my fanboy side is satisfied.
Until next month, that is.
Art - 5: Iconic.
That is the word that kept popping up as I read this comic. Wagner's style is edgy and slick at the same time. His page layouts, going from multi-panel to two-page spreads, exude the kind of power this story needed. There is an awe and wonder mixed with some phenomenal character work that makes the book come to life.
By far the strongest character in the book was Superman. Not just in terms of power, but in how Wagner threw himself into making Superman bigger than life. The train sequence ending in the two page spread was breath taking. Another great shot was Superman using his x-ray vision in the desert. This was pure Superman especially since Clark Kent and Superman looked so different you could buy into the fact that they were two different people.
Wonder Woman was interesting. Wagner made a nice choice in using the original un-skirted Wonder Woman concept. He also made her a striking figure and while not making her too butch also avoided making her too dainty. The inside of the Invisible Jet was very well done.
The detail put into Ghul's outfit was sweet and he even made the man creepier by having him grin broadly. Nothing is scarier than when the man who doesn't smile grins like a mad man.
Bizarro was the second strongest character from an artistic stand point. The detail continued here with Bizarro's face looking as calcified as it was described. His costume was great too with a nice update on the Challenge of the Super Friends. There was a lot of personality in Bizarro that a lot of artists would have left it out.
If the art continues to be this good then the story should play out on a larger level. Matt Wagner made the characters come alive both with dialogue and his art. More than that, he has taken the tough task of trying to tell a story in the past and capturing the essence while having a modern sensibility.
I can't wait to see his Batman next issue.
Cover Art - 5: Like the interior art this cover is iconic. I could really see someone with only a passing interest in any of these characters at least picking this book up based solely on the cover. Superman takes the forefront, which makes sense considering that he is the main focus. But all three characters standing there in various poses makes for some great comic book art.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2003.